Part II of the breakdown of the actual personnel matchups in Super Bowl XLIII. View Part I (Cardinals Offense vs. Steelers defense).
Steeler quarterback vs. Cardinal safeties
Ben Roethlisberger is a step below mediocre when it comes to making presnap reads, but he’s two steps above marvelous when it comes to improvising after the snap. The key Sunday could be what the Cardinals do with utility star safety Adrian Wilson. They’ll blitz him on multiple occasions, but if Big Ben can bide time and get outside the pocket (which you have to assume he will) then Arizona will be depending on Antrel Rolle and often-used backup Aaron Francisco to maintain deep coverage. Rolle has become a ballhawk as of late, and Francisco has blossomed into a more reliable tackler. But neither is spectacular. Roethlisberger, at his best, is spectacular.
Steeler running backs vs. Cardinal linebackers
Willie Parker is playing his best football of the season for Pittsburgh, while Karlos Dansby is playing his best football as a pro for Arizona. If this were a one-on-one matchup, it’d be a push. But there are other factors involved. For the Steelers, they’ll rely on Mewelde Moore for six or seven carries, plus whatever he can bring in the passing game. And they’ll call on the powerful Carey Davis in short-yardage situations. But neither of these players strike fear in opponents, which is why Arizona D-coordinator Clancy Pendergast can trust that his other linebackers, Gerald Hayes and Chike Okeafor, will make plays. Hayes is golden when he’s reacting instead of thinking. Okeafor is more of a pass-rusher.
Steeler receivers vs. Cardinal cornerbacks
Everyone talks about Hines Ward, but in fact, the key to slowing Pittsburgh is containing Santonio Holmes. Holmes is the only veritable big-play threat on offense. And he uses his speed not just vertically, but also horizontally (which, as the Ravens found out in the AFC title game, can lead to big plays vertically when Holmes finds daylight in running after the catch).
Fortunately for Arizona, they have a young corner who can be a stopper: rookie Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie. The first-round pick from tiny Tennessee State has been almost perfect the last two months. If Rodgers-Cromartie gets an opportunity to handle Holmes, the Steelers could be forced to play dink and dunk with Ward and tight end Heath Miller. That’s not an entirely bad thing. Ward is a flat-out better player than Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood, and Miller could soften the Cardinal run defense with a few seven-or eight-yard receptions. One more critical matchup that could prove huge: Pittsburgh No. 3 receiver Nate Washington vs. Arizona nickel back Ralph Brown. Washington is great downfield, while Brown is terrific underneath.
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